The 面包 experience

Some people say that bread making is therapeutic especially when you are kneading the dough. My opinion? Incredibly stressful …on your FIRST attempt.

My first bread making experience started purely due to necessity. We had a day trip the following day and had to pack our own lunch. The easy way out was to prepare sandwiches but we had no bread. We could well go to the supermarket and buy a loaf but I thought it was a good opportunity to bake a loaf of bread!

I started reading up and gosh, how confusing it seemed! There were a lot of information that I had to take in: how yeast work, at what temperature will it be active, how to knead the dough, etc.

I am thankful that there are numerous resources and reading widely helped. My first attempt at Honey Wheat Bread was a success and I was amazed by yeast! My second bread was Currant Bread with Cinnamon Swirl and I got distracted while watching Masterchef. The bread turned out well, nonetheless, just that it has no swirl.

Honey Wheat Bread

Currant Bread with a Cinnamon Swirl

I’m eternally grateful for my mixer which makes life so much easier for me. =)Here I am. I’m making notes on it, so bear with me.

Yeast and bacteria are highly sensitive to temperature. Yeast is active between just above freezing and 130F.

How to know when bread is  done? Giving a quick tap to a hot loaf and it should emit a hollow sound, judge by the colour of the loaf. The most accurate method is to insert an instant-read thermometer through the bottom of the loaf into its centre; it should register 205F when it is done.

Steps of Bread Making

1. Mixing: The ingredients are loosely mixed, covered with plastic wrap, and allowed to rest for 20 minutes or so to give the liquid, usually water, time to penetrate the flour. If you are in a rush, you can skip this resting step. In many situations, this mixing is done with a portion of the flour to make what’s called a “sponge”

2. Kneading: The dough is worked to activate the gluten – the protein in the flour – which traps the carbon dioxide released by the yeast and causes the bread to rise. When kneading in a mixer, use the paddle or dough hook, and knead until the dough pulls away from the bowl and collects on the paddle or dough hook.

3. First rise (fermentation): The dough is covered with plastic wrap or a damp towel to prevent a crust from forming and allowed to rise. The cooler the rising environment, the slower the dough will rise and the more flavour the bread will develop.

4. Retardng: (not necessary) Some bakers let bread dough rest for a period, sometimes overnight, in the refrigerator. This helps the dough develop flavour and also creates greater flexibility in the baking schedule. In other words, you can make the dough, let it rise overnight in the refrigerator, and then bake it when you have time the following day.

5. Punching down: When the dough has at least doubled in volume, it is pressed, or literally ounched, to force out he carbon dioxide and to rearrange the yeast within the dough so that it is in contact with more nutrients.
* The CIA prefers gently folding the dough over on itself from the edges to the centre and gently press down.

6. Dividing: If you have made enough dough to yield more than a single loaf, now is when you divide the dough into portions.
* The recipes in the cookbook often make 2 portion. I cut the portion by half to make one loaf and thus skip this step.

7. Shaping: The dough or each portio of the dough is shaped.
* I need a lot of practice at this. There is a certain way, it seems.

8. Proofing (second rise): The shaped dough is allowed to rise a second time, with thw timing depending on temperatre, the amount of dough, and the shape of the dough.

9. Baking: The shaped dough is baked. Ideally, steam is introduced in the oven to help prevent a crust from forming on the bread too soon, which can keep it from rising.

10. Cooling: The bread is usually allowed to col on a rack, so air circulates around the loaf as it cools. Cut the bread only when it is fully cooled. Cutting hot bread cause it to lose its texture and may collapse if they are cut into while too warm.

Source: James Paterson’s Cooking & Baking at home with The Culinary Institute of America.

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